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Aug 19, 2018

#10 Recognizing and Responding to Injustice

Passage: Psalm 112

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: When You Need More Than a Band-Aid

Category: Not By Chance But By His Fatherly Hand

Keywords: compassion, injustice, justice, philemon, reconciliation

Summary:

We finish our summer series entitled When You Need More Than a Band-Aid, How All Things Come to Us Not By Chance But By God’s Fatherly Hand. Our final theme will be ‘Recognizing and Responding to Injustice.’ Justice is an expectation of God for the Lord’s covenant people. In general, Christians are awakening again by the Holy Spirit to the calls and cries for biblical justice. The gospel of Jesus and faith in the Triune God is not just about me and for me. Love for our neighbor leads us to recognize injustice and respond to it. This is easier said than done. So we’ll explore Psalm 112, which speaks about the character of God’s people living in God’s righteousness. And the book of Philemon, in which a disciple of the Lord is encouraged to respond with Christ-like love. And we pray that the Holy Spirit will counsel us to love justice as God so loves the world.

Detail:

Recognizing and Responding to Injustice

 

Last weekend learned new sport: pickleball.

What is pickleball? Do you know?

It’s played on a court the size of a badminton court,

usually 2 against 2,

the paddles are bigger than table tennis,

but a little smaller than racquetball,

the ball is like a whiffle ball,

the nets are on the ground a little shorter than

the tennis court nets.

Actually, pickleball is sort of like tennis for old people!

Now you 30 something year olds don’t laugh,

soon will come a day when your friend or sibling or spouse says to you,

don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself,

so then it’ll be time for pickleball for you, too.

 

Anyway, I had fun.

I learned the basics and the rules of the game.

Did a lot of sweating.

And was both challenged and refreshed

to have to play with a partner,

to win or lose together.

The next morning tho,

I felt some muscles that I didn’t know were there!

Now I thought I was in pretty good shape.

But my stiffness and pain told me

I had muscles that I had been neglecting to work.

 

Scripture passages like Psalm 112

and the letter to Philemon

alert us to some spiritual muscles

that disciples of Jesus have neglected.

Those spiritual desires and burdens

and actions of justice.

 

Most all of us have a sense when injustice occurs.

This is because we are made in the image of God

who is perfect justice and perfect mercy.

So no parent has to teach a child about fairness, right?

How often haven’t we said, or thought, or heard,

Hey! That’s not fair!

It doesn’t take much for us

to recognize when we’ve been wronged.

How quick we say, it’s not fair!

 

But even quicker: I didn’t do it!

It’s not my fault!

It’s a different story when it comes to

the injustice others suffer.

Our persecuted Christian sisters and brothers:

when was the last time

you prayed for their safety or deliverance?

when was the last time

you brought that concern to your representative?

All the horrible news again

about sexual misconduct and abuse

in churches of all places and communities:

does that motivate you to help us do all we can

to make this a safe church,

or do you still think the measures we take

to value the safety of our children are a bother?

Do we think about immigration struggles

and refugee concerns

protecting our own self-interest

or dare ask what’s just,

or where does mercy prompt us to act?

We are rightly opposed to the injustice of abortion,

but does the continued violence and poverty

as a result of racism

embedded in our hearts and country

stir us to prayer, political action confession, too:

‘we can’t overcome something we won’t admit’

says Thabiti Anyabwile (tha-BEE-tee An-ya-bwee-lay),

when it comes to injustice

it starts with our confession,

admitting our silence,

acknowledging that we have turned a blind eye

to our neighbors who have suffered wrong,

often to our profit.

 

Because we don’t value justice as God does

psalms like Psalm 112 go unnoticed.

vs 5 centers the song:

‘Good will come to those who are generous

and lend freely,

    who conduct their affairs with justice.’

Is that a verse we’ve memorized?

We know Psalm 23.

But this revelation, this value,

this purpose, this command to live justly

often escapes us when we think about faith.

 

So this is good for us to hear and take to heart.

Do you sense as I do that this desire to act justly

is a good pressure young Christians

are applying on the rest of us

in this last decade or so?

 

If I ask you,

how should a follower of Jesus live, behave, act?

Many of us would talk about personal piety:

pray every day,

know the Scriptures,

worship on Sunday,

give to church and kingdom causes,

don’t swear,

learn to say ‘Thank you’

and ‘I’m sorry’

obey the ten commandments . . .

all good and appropriate and God-honoring choices,

but focused on myself,

tempted to be good enough, whatever that means.

 

It would take a little while longer

for us to think of what Psalm 112 teaches

about faith focused on the welfare

of our neighbors and the need of the community:

summarized in vs 4 –

those who are gracious and compassionate

and righteous . . .

and verse 5 –

those who are generous and lend freely,

    who conduct their affairs with justice

and verse 9 –

They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor . . .

 

Can we start thinking about our faith

and how we obey and thank the Lord

as measured by this love for neighbor

and the one in need:

gracious, compassionate, righteous,

generous, just behavior,

freely giving to the poor?

 

The Psalm talks about riches,

about how to live in a material world.

But the Spirit directs us away from basing

our lives and homes and families

and putting our energy into

getting and having more:

vs 3 - 3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,

    and their righteousness endures forever.

So faith matters in our day-to-day living to:

the Psalm doesn’t tell us

to protect what we have

or to measure our lives by our stuff

or to live for more,

but to commit to righteousness,

which is just another word for just living:

vs 4 - . . . those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

vs 5 - . . . those who are generous and lend freely,

    who conduct their affairs with justice.

 

Where does this all come from?

It comes from our Heavenly Father

and being redeemed in the image of Jesus

to imitate him in what we do and say.

For those of you who like to dig deeper into Scripture

look at Psalms 111  and 112 together.

Psalm 111 focuses on

the character of the Triune God:

Psalm 112 then focuses on our living

in covenant relationship with the Lord.

Psalm 111 reveals this about the Lord God:

the Lord is gracious and compassionate.

5 He provides food for those who fear him;

his righteousness endures forever.

 7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;

 

And then Psalm 111 ends saying

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;

    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.

    To him belongs eternal praise.

 

‘Fearing the Lord’ means to orient our lives

and our life’s choices

in light of God’s sovereign love and grace.

Psalm 112 then starts –

1 Praise the Lord.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,

    who find great delight in his commands.

Just like Psalm 111 ended.

The people of God

mirror the heart and image of the Lord.

Psalm 111:3b says that the Lord’s

“righteousness endures forever.”

Psalm 112:3b and 9b use the same words

to describe God’s people:

“their righteousness endures forever.”

Psalm 111:4b declares that

the Lord is “gracious and compassionate”

and 112:4b states that God’s people

are “gracious and compassionate.”

You are created in God’s image to reflect God’s heart.

And as the Lord has blessed God’s people

in their time of need,

so now God’s people will

be generous in blessing those in need

with all God has given.

 

The news for us is that the gospel of Jesus

matters and is directed toward this world

even tho we have an eye on the next.

And that’s the revelation in

Paul’s letter to Philemon.

He writes to the church in Philemon’s home.

But he doesn’t talk about worship songs

or how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper

or how long the service should be.

He talks about justice.

He speaks about reconciliation.

He talks about a situation involving

a man named Onesimus

hoping that as a result Philemon

‘. . .  might have him back forever—

16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave,

as a dear brother.

He is very dear to me but even dearer to you,

both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner,

welcome him as you would welcome me.’

 

The letter to Philemon

is about making things right:

doing justice, loving kindness,

and walking humbly with God.

 

Paul leads Philemon and the church

to a higher justice, a holy justice,

a justice based on God’s grace,

compassion and righteousness.

And the result is reconciliation.

A holy establishment of the way

we are meant to relate to one another

in the name of Jesus Christ:

welcome him as you would welcome me.

The slave becomes a brother.

 

The issues of justice in the New Testament day

may be different than our issues of injustice today,

but the measure of our response is the same.

Paul invites Philemon

to the justice and mercy of Christ:

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold

and order you to do what you ought to do,

9 yet I prefer to appeal to you

on the basis of love.

 

Just as Jesus embodied and revealed

the heart of the true God

by his grace, compassion and righteousness,

which resulted in the Lord’s covenant love for you,

so now out of that love,

Philemon is invited to a life of

grace, compassion and righteousness.

To live in the name of Jesus

for the glory of God.

How important this is for us and our country.

Because we’re a little lost when it comes

to knowing what justice is.

We’ve lost our sense of right and wrong,

what’s legal and illegal

gets more confusing every day,

what’s correct or incorrect behavior depends

on your own point of view.

The big term today is ‘social justice.’

Who isn’t for that?

But wait a minute,

what does that mean?

And that’s the problem.

‘Social justice’; means different things

to different people and groups.

Here are some popular definitions:

“Social justice is the view

that everyone deserves equal economic,

political and social rights and opportunities.”

 “Social justice is the equal access to wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”

“Social justice is recognizing that any combination

of being and identity is just as valid as the next.”

 

These can lead to all sorts of actions

or policies or laws just and unjust.

So you can see

followers of the God of justice and mercy

need to take their place

in the name of Jesus

in the questions and struggles for justice.

 

CRCNA - When we talk about social justice,

we mean God's original intention for human society:

a world where basic needs are met,

people flourish, and peace (shalom) reigns.

God calls us, the church,

to participate in the renewal of society so that all—

especially the weak and vulnerable—

can enjoy God's good gifts.

 

Dr John Perkins: Justice is any act of reconciliation

that restores any part of God’s creation

back to its original intent, purpose or image.

 

It’s time to exercise the spiritual muscles

of justice again,

to love our neighbors justly,

as the Lord loves

by the justice and mercy of the cross.

 

Here are a few actions we can take,

maybe you can think of others

to add to this list;

 

First, choose to recognize injustice

and call it for what it is.

How can I do that?

We recognize injustice and either suffer it

or condemn it because Jesus suffered unjustly:

he was handed over tho he had done nothing wrong

he laid down his life of his own will

innocent, he was  condemned,

guiltless, he took your guilt and shame.

The cross is the symbol of injustice.

 

from VOM –

Helen Berhane was a singer and worship leader

in an outlawed church in Eritrea.

She was imprisoned and punished for her faith.

This is what Jesus taught her thru injustice:

I decide to stand by faith,

it doesn’t matter what the cost.

Because everything cost a price.

When you buy bread, it cost a price.

When you buy car, it cost a price.

Also when you follow Jesus, it cost a price.

Everything cost a price.

 

Start with prayers of confession and intercession

to bring the reality of Christ’s cross

into each situation.

And ask what the cross says about this situation

before we rush to declare what

we think we know about it.

 

Second, because Jesus became one of us

and lived as God with us,

we can add to our recognition

by choosing to get closer to those

who are most vulnerable to injustice.

 

Bryan Stevenson,

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption –

“You can’t understand

most of the important things from a distance . . .

You have to get close . . .”

 “Proximity has taught me

some basic and humbling truths,

including this vital lesson:

Each of us is more than the worst thing

we’ve ever done.

My work with the poor and the incarcerated

has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty

is not wealth;

the opposite of poverty is justice.

 

Getting close opens our eyes,

changes our hearts,

blesses us with discernment,

and where two or three gather

in Jesus’ name,

there he is with them.

 

So read the Voice of the Martyr,

to know what persecuted Christians face.

Get to know or get involved in

some of our mission churches

in the city.

And add these to your prayers.

Commit to knowing your neighbors

by name

and having regular conversations with them.

Talk with our deacons about the ministries

we can help with.

Talk with some here who volunteer

with different organizations

for those in prison, for emergency family needs,

or for orphaned children overseas.

 

Third, our hearts are then opened to compassion.

This is our next response.

But how can we train ourselves in compassion?

A decision to be intellectually and morally involved.

For some our first reaches in compassion

will involve a trip to the library

and reading a few books.

Read books like

The Blood of Emmett Till,

or Just Mercy which I’ve quoted from today,

or Evicted,

or the popular book a few years ago, The Help.

Watch the film, Hidden Figures.

Or the film Amazing Grace

on the life of William Wilberforce.

Look for and attend a local lecture

on human rights issues.

That’s some intellectual involvement.

 

As your compassion is aroused

look to participate in a local group

focused on a justice issue:

perhaps our refugee group.

Or volunteer with the after school program.

Or join with some of your friends here

in their volunteer group.

 

In fact, choices like these

are really what define the original intent

of the term ‘social justice.’

The term “social justice” emerges out of Scripture,

and was actually originally coined by the church:

a Jesuit monk based the phrase

on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.

So fourth,

Social justice is the capacity to organize

with others to accomplish ends

that benefit the whole community.

You see it beginning here in Philemon,

when Paul encourages Philemon’s . . .

‘partnership with us in the faith’

and  vs 17 So if you consider me a partner,

welcome him as you would welcome me.

Do this for our community,

and make a slave a brother.

Together we can beat this empire

and the taken for granted values of the day

that de-valued human beings.

 

Tocqueville said the difference in America is that:

when the French had a problem

they chose what was best personally,

the English solved their problems

by making the aristocrats responsible,

but he found in America

people got together and formed associations.

They hold bake sales

or form committees

or volunteer.

That's what a free people do.

That's what a democracy is.

The first law of democracy, Tocqueville wrote,

is the law of association.

Michael Novak –

In America, we mostly go to meetings.

Parenthood, you discover,

is essentially a transportation service.

Your kids go to so many meetings in a day

that you need a sign on the refrigerator

telling you which times everybody

is scheduled for what and where they have to be.

Americans are good at going to meetings,

and that's a tremendous skill to have.

And that's what, in a word, social justice is—

a virtue,

a habit that people internalize and learn,

a capacity.

It's a capacity that has two sides:

first, a capacity to organize with others

to accomplish particular ends and,

second, ends that are extra-familial.

They're for the good of the neighborhood,

or the village, or the town, or the state,

or the country, or the world.

To send money or clothes

or to travel to other parts of the world

in order to help out—

that's what social justice is . . . – Michael Novak

 

And if Americans in general

are good at going to meetings,

we in the Reformed tradition of Christianity

excel at it.

Associate against an injustice.

 

Richard Stearns retiring from leading World Vision:

on facing injustice -

That’s always a challenge,

no matter who’s in the White House—

So I tell church leaders,

“We need to let the government be the government.

But we need to make sure

the church stays the church.”

God doesn’t love American children

any more than he loves the children of South Sudan

or the children of Syria.

 

There are always going to be areas of conflict

between what our government wants to do

and what God would have us do.

 

It is about learning to walk

and work and pray together again,

partners, teammates, neighbors

across racial and economic and ethnic divides.

To resist the pressure to be more and more isolated,

to exercise compassion and generosity

instead of a selfish fear

that thinks only of one’s self,

and to act in ways that make brothers and sisters instead of strangers and adversaries.

 

After all, what is a Christian?

Someone who exercises a private, personal belief?

Not just that.

But one by the cross and resurrection of Jesus

is gracious, compassionate, and righteous,

generous, conducting one’s affairs with justice.

Amen?